On Tuesday Islamic fundamentalist radicals affiliated with Al Qaeda took control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. That was quickly followed by Tikrit. Yesterday Kurdish peshmerga took control of Kirkuk. Over at Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a link-filled post on the upheaval in Iraq:
Obviously, any decision to intervene in Iraq even in a limited fashion would be fraught with domestic political complications for the Obama Administration. At the top of that list, of course, there’s the fact that President Obama campaigned for office on his opposition to the Iraq War and for re-election on the fact that he presided over the end of that war. Making the case to the American public for what would obviously be new American intervention in Iraq that could not credibly be sold as an extension of the 2003 war would be difficult for any President, of course, but it would be doubly difficult for him. Second, of course, there’s the fact that the the American public has a negative opinion of the Iraq War even today, an opinion that has shaped public opinion regarding the propriety of U.S. involvement in other world hot spots such as Libya, Syria, and Ukraine.
The balance of this post is a comment of mine I’ve resurrected from that thread.
I think the Kurds taking Kirkuk, something I predicted shortly after the fall of Mosul, is an important development. Although there haven’t been any reliable censuses of Iraq for decades back in the 1960s Kirkuk’s population was 75% Kurds and Turkomans. Mosul was mostly Kurds and Assyrians (Christian Iraqis—Syriac, Chaldean, Nestorian). In the 1970s Saddam began his program of “Arabization”, ethnic cleansing, forcibly removing Kurdish and Christian families from their homes and replacing them with Muslim Arab families so that now both cities are majority Arab.
I expect a bitter fight for both cities. Kirkuk is oil-rich and it’s a valuable prize. I don’t expect things to end here.
It certainly looks as though Iraq were collapsing into ethnic enclaves. I hope that those who think that a war raging from the Mediterranean to the Tigris (or, worse, to the Hindu Kush) won’t affect us are right.
Now if you want to vent about ” George Bush’s war,” be my guest. But George Bush isn’t president anymore. Barack Obama is because he wanted the job and the responsibilities that come with the American presidency. Up to now, burying those responsibilities in the sand has never been in the job description.
Mosul’s fall matters for what it reveals about a terrorism whose threat Mr. Obama claims he has minimized. For starters, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) isn’t a bunch of bug-eyed “Mad Max” guys running around firing Kalashnikovs. ISIS is now a trained and organized army.
The seizures of Mosul and Tikrit this week revealed high-level operational skills. ISIS is using vehicles and equipment seized from Iraqi military bases. Normally an army on the move would slow down to establish protective garrisons in towns it takes, but ISIS is doing the opposite, by replenishing itself with fighters from liberated prisons.
An astonishing read about this group is on the website of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. It is an analysis of a 400-page report, “al-Naba,” published by ISIS in March. This is literally a terrorist organization’s annual report for 2013. It even includes “metrics,” detailed graphs of its operations in Iraq as well as in Syria.
Mr. Henninger’s predictions of “a) a second Syria or b) a restored caliphate” are, unfortunately, the best-case scenarios. The “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” is inclusive not only of Iraq and Syria but Lebanon as well. Their ambitions are much grander than a second Syria.